There are better places out there if you are looking for raw materials. Not many people is aware that we are literally surrounded by flying mountains of raw ores there for the taking: an asteroid belt, with pieces of all kinds and sizes in great concentration, floats just beyond the orbit of Mars. Sure, reaching one of them and towing it in Earth's orbit for dismantling would cost a lot of money. So what? The whole mass of one carefully selected chunk of rock will be mainly made of cobalt, platinum, manganese, molybdenum, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, carbon, iron, nickel, silicates of various kinds and water ice too. A lot of crystal-clear, pure water for our thirsty world. All this elements are essential for economic and technological progress as we know it, and one – one! – single asteroid could change forever and for good the face of our global economy. A comparatively small metallic asteroid with a mean diameter of 1 km could contain more than two billion tons of iron-nickel ore, that is two to three times Earth's annual production. Bigger ones could supply the world production requirement for several million years. Those buggers are fat and they can help us getting out of our cradle.
Wonderful as it could appear, mining the sky is only the beginning.
We can hollow out one or more of those big rocks and build space habitats. The carving out of an asteroid will leave us with a lot of room and an additional reserve of hydrogen, hydrogen peroxide and nitrous oxide... that is, rocket fuel that we can use to propel our expansion toward the outer system. Imagine traveling cheaply from planet to planet without even abandoning our actual space technology: when you're not held on the ground by a strong gravitational field flying rockets gets a lot easier. We can go on using chemical boosters for short-range voyages because resources will not be an issue anymore.
With these comparatively poor technologies we could colonize the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, mine them and the gas giants for their most valuable ores and isotopes, then use those resources to start the terraforming of Venus and Mars, if it's not already under way. Our ingenuity and imagination will provide new ways to tackle the engineering challenges ahead. Why, we can imagine most of those technologies now, it's only a matter of finding out how to realize them in detail. Our mind will be, and is now, our most valuable asset, the key to the future of mankind. This is why I burn in rage when I think about our approach to science and education... and the role faith plays in it.
Many say that we shouldn't expand to other planets. They say that we have destroyed one already.
I usually answer: “So, what?”
Try to think for a moment about the scale of the things involved. Earth is a planet of respectable size, the biggest rocky world in our solar system. We walk on it and it seems infinite to our eye, but it's not. It's not even so big, compared to other planets like the gas giants. Jupiter has a surface area 121 times that of Earth and its mass is nearly 318 Earth's masses. But this is nothing: compared to Sol Jupiter is a puny puff of gas. The Sun holds 99.8 percent of the solar system's mass. The quantity of matter outside the Sun is insignificant.. it means something to us just because we are a tiny chunk of it that's sentient. We are less than dust and stand on a mote
But Sol is only one of the stars in our galaxy, and not even a particularly important or impressive one. It lays 26.000 light years away from the galactic core in a peripheral region of a lesser arm of the spiral, the one called “Orion”. The galaxy itself is 100.000 light years wide and contains from 200 to 400 billions of stars, with a huge black hole right in the center of it all.
Many of the stars have planets of their own, of every kind and size, many earthlike.
So, why shouldn't we export our civilization to our neighborhood? We are not likely to “ruin” it, and even if this is bound to happen it will not matter in the galactic scale. It will not matter at all, because by the time this solar system is used up we'll be elsewhere. We need to buy ourselves time to develop new behavioral strategies, new technologies, to cope with our nonsensical population growth rate, to learn new ways to care for the planetary and interplanetary environment. The only way to do this is starting to colonize our little patch of land. Trial and error. On the long run we will learn or die. So why shy away from trying? We can do, at most, very limited damage to our immediate surrounding before we go extinct. So... try we shall, in my opinion.
(to be continued... )
(to be continued... )